“The Hill and the Hole,” by Fritz Leiber (1942) E

Reviewer: Emera
Date read: 3.13.2018
Read from: Reproduction posted by The Sanguine Wood; also available here on unz.org

Tom Digby swabbed his face against the rolled-up sleeve of his drill shirt, and good-naturedly damned the whole practice of measuring altitudes by barometric instruments…

This Leiber tale has a rock-solid Weird premise: a geological surveyor’s instruments tell him that the hill he is looking at is, in fact, a hole. Well, which is it? The premise taps into the same what’s in there unease as fairy mounds, without directly drawing on that body of folklore, and adds a Lovecraftish space/geometry-warping flavor.

Execution is just okay – the prose and pacing have a slightly thick, ungainly feeling, as if Leiber is laboring to maneuver the expected narrative accoutrements into position – the creepy blue-eyed little girl to provide cryptic warnings, the surveyor’s internal protestations in favor of rationality: “If there was anything he detested, it was admitting the possibility of supernatural agencies, even in jest.” We all know how that will go. (Also, how ridiculous is it that the surveyor is named Digby?)

But this is the sort of thing that – like urban legends – lives on in the imagination regardless of execution, helped along by Leiber’s evocation of suffocating summer heat and dust. Yum.

Related reading:

Lovecraft the terrible, the ridiculous, the great

Tales of Horror and the Supernatural, by Arthur Machen (1948) E

Are you listening closely

8 thoughts on ““The Hill and the Hole,” by Fritz Leiber (1942) E”

  1. I think Leiber’s stories tend to start better then they end. It’s like he comes up with concepts, but then doesn’t know what to do with them. P.S. I don’t think I read anything by Kakaner until recently; I was starting to wonder if she really existed.

    1. I’ve only read a couple of the Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser stories before, which I loved as a kid – good ol’ tombs-and-plunder fantasy! I do have a copy of Nifft the Lean that I’ve been looking forward to digging into. Anything else of his I should be paying attention to?

      Perhaps Kakaner is a concept that I came up with and then didn’t know what to do with … Just kidding, she’s real, she’s just far busier than me.

  2. Besides the Fafhrd and Grey Mouser stories, I’ve only read two of his tales–“The Girl with The Hungry Eyes”, about a succubus, and an SF tale whose title I can’t remember, where a guy has a nervous breakdown because he is on a planet where all the people are identical clones. Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser have a lot more wit and style than Conan. Did you know that Leiber corresponded with Lovecraft?

  3. I remember one Leiber tale I forgot to mention: “The Automatic Pistol”, a fairly routine ghost-takes-revenge-on-his-murderer story. I found the SF story provocative; the other two were competent, but unremarkable.

    1. I thiiink I’ve read “The Girl with the Hungry Eyes,” except that I’ve read so many stories with that theme (and even in/from that time period) that even skimming the text online, I can’t quite tell if I have read this particular one. Lots of Girls out there.

      Re: Fafhrd – oh, yes, everybody prefers a trickster over a brawler. And I did know that Leiber and Lovecraft were collegial, though I don’t know much about their influence on each other.

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